Universe I see your face looks just like mine…
— The Microphones, “Universe”
It can be difficult today to reconcile oneself with modernist ideals that seem to still contain some liberating promise, considering how in practice so many of these ideals have proven to be ineffective at best, and quite oppressive at worst. Likewise, while ideological systems that accompanied these ideals are no longer reliable, their straightforward certainty and romantic clarity of purpose somehow remain captivating prospects for relieving some of the anxieties found in distributed, competitive systems of negotiated and renegotiated value. After all this time, we are still seduced by modernism’s emancipatory promises just as we are stifled by its models of democratic managerialism.
The field of art not only suffers from these unreconciled desires and realities, but often finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having to negotiate with them in order to ensure its very existence. But in this negotiation, the variables always seem to slip out of one’s grasp: the rediscovery of ideology gets pitted against the melancholia of its collapse; the desire to be instrumental beyond the field of art is bracketed by a fear of being instrumentalized by those same forces; assertions of artistic autonomy translate into performative disappearance; straightforward engagement risks severe compromise—all of this to try and access a latent and bonding value in art, whether on its own terms or in collaboration with the forces to which it is subject. There is no real solution to this, but then again, these are not necessarily problems either.
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